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Game Changers: Vela, Chicharito & the battle for El Trafico


Two Mexican national team legends, two elite talents who’ve played for top clubs worldwide, two lethal goalscorers, two rival MLS teams, one city: Welcome to the Carlos Vela and Chicharito show in LA, coming to you live from the Rose Bowl on Feb. 25 (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

The juxtaposition between two of the top players in Major League Soccer – and two of Mexico's most distinguished stars – is front and center in the first episodes of MLS Season PassGame Changers, a new series presenting the playing styles and personalities of the league’s best and brightest, as told through high-definition highlights and telling interviews with current and former MLS greats.

The ever-growing El Trafico rivalry looms large over both episodes, with Vela setting his sights on “more trophies to come” following LAFC's MLS Cup-winning season (in which they also eliminated the Galaxy from the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs), and Chicharito offering the following rebuttal:

“Message to my brother, Carlitos: Congratulations. Well done, but it’s just going to last one season, and that’s it.”

LAFC’s 33-year-old talisman and first-ever Designated Player signing, Vela joined the club before their inaugural season in 2018. Before MLS, the former Mexican national team winger played 13 successful years in Europe, which included a spell at Arsenal and eight seasons at LaLiga’s Real Sociedad, where he scored 73 goals in 250 appearances.

His storied MLS career includes a Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, three MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire selections, and most recently, the 2022 MLS Cup.

Overcoming the doubt

Taylor Twellman, MLS Season Pass analyst and former MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner: “When LAFC announced Carlos Vela, I don’t think anyone, including myself, understood the magnitude that would have. We knew the kind of player that he was when he was at Arsenal as a young player, but he came into this league with a chip on his shoulder to prove that this was how it’s done.”

Héctor Herrera, Houston Dynamo FC midfielder and Mexico national team player: “At the time [when the signing was announced] I thought, ‘How did he make that decision while so young still?' And he had the opportunity and talent to play in a big team in Europe. Outside of MLS, they say things about MLS, and when you arrive, you realize it’s something else.”

Twellman: “I never fully understood why Carlos Vela was criticized. I think a lot of times people in the media can get turned off by someone that’s going to do it their way and not the traditional way that everybody else has done.”

Vela: “I have never been affected by what people or the press say about me, but the important thing is to make the best decision for myself.”

It’s “between the ears”

Twellman: “He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, he’s not the strongest, but between the ears, he’s a step or two ahead of everyone around him.”

Herrera: “He puts passes where he wants to, scores goals where wants to. He sees passes that perhaps the rest don’t see. He’s slow but also fast.”

Vela: “One thing I have more of is experience. And I think that’s where I have to create an advantage to always be one step ahead to make up for that lack of speed.”

The "privileged" left foot

Bradley Wright-Phillips, MLS Season Pass analyst and former MLS Golden Boot winner: “You know those players, those very technical players, that you can’t stop? He’s going to cut inside on his left, but what are you going to do about it?”

Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder: "The way he dribbles past players and hides the ball with his left foot while using his body..."

Herrera: “He has a privileged left foot.”

WATCH: Playoff madness! LAFC top Galaxy in an El Trafico for the ages

A No. 9 who's made waves on the global stage, Chicharito joined the LA Galaxy in 2020 as arguably Mexico’s most famous player, having won two Premier Leagues with Manchester United and also played for Real Madrid and Bayern Leverkusen, among others.

After a slow start in MLS, Chicha exploded for 35 goals in 53 regular-season appearances in his last two seasons with LA. Most recently, he led a resurgent Galaxy to the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals, where they lost to Carlos Vela’s LAFC on a stunning 93rd-minute goal from the now-departed Chicho Arango.

A legend for his country

Sacha Kljestan, MLS Season Pass analyst and two-time MLS Best XI player: “Being around Chicharito and seeing how popular he is, it’s actually mind-blowing.”

Herrera: “I think Javier marked a new era. He broke the barrier of people saying, 'Mexicans don’t play on big teams. They’re not talented enough.'”

Vela: “He’s had an incredible career, he’s played on the best teams in the world. United, Madrid, Mexico’s leading goalscorer: I think these are things that are in reach of few, and people forget that quickly.”

Mental health advocate

Twellman: “The one thing that I admire the most about Chicharito is his openness regarding mental health and coming to LA and coming to Major League Soccer and the challenges that has brought to him. I think that opening up has made him more accessible, and I think, ultimately, LA Galaxy changed his life. And I think he would say for the better.”

Chicharito: “People never talk about it, but realistically, even without the awareness that you need to do mental health, that’s how your life is. So it happened when life told me, ‘Hey, your grandad is dead, so what are you going to do about it?’ That’s mental health. Mental health is something that we live with. We’re humans. You’re alive, you’re doing mental health. Period.”

Fox in the box

Twellman: “Every single team he’s been on, he’s the ruthless guy in the box. He’s got a sixth sense of where the ball’s gonna be at the right spot, at the right time, and he’s a finisher.”

Wright-Phillips: “Guys that score tap-ins or always seem to be in the right spot, this is not an accident. This is not something where the dude’s just lucky.”

Vela: "It’s no coincidence because if it were a coincidence, we would all get the bounces he gets, and he always seems to get the bounce."

Herrera: “It’s like he can smell the goal. I don’t know. It’s something that God gave him."

Chicharito: “I’ve never been the strongest, the fastest, the most technical one. If I’m in the right place at the right time and I score goals, why do I need to score nice goals? Why do I need to that?

“I think adaptation, and be aware of the circumstances of each game, then I think you can be one step ahead of how things are going on and you can take advantage. And that’s what life is about, and that’s what sport is about.”

El Trafico: A Short Film